Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Vandy searching for answers at Christmas break

If Damian Jones decides to stay at Vandy, Bryce Drew will inherit a Top 25 team. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Christmas Eve has officially arrived, and with it comes the newest edition of the Three-Point Play. For those that are college basketball fans, you can consider this the small stocking present before Santa comes strolling in with the big ones.

Let’s roll through what’s happening in mid-state college hoops right now.

Vandy continues to struggle with the injured Luke Kornet still on the sidelines. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Vandy continues to struggle with the injured Luke Kornet still on the sidelines. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

1. Vandy finds itself in a rut after Purdue loss

The Vanderbilt Commodores were at one point on the brink of a Top 10 ranking.

Several weeks later, Kevin Stallings’ team will find itself completely out of the polls altogether when the new ones are released next Monday.

Although the Commodores were already out of the Associated Press poll, they’ll be exiting the Coaches poll as well after a 68-55 loss at No. 14 Purdue on Tuesday night.

It was a chance for this team to regain its footing. But instead, the slide continued.

It was the same story, different verse. Vandy led 26-23 at halftime. However, yet again, the Commodores let a team rally in the second half to deny them a victory.

The absence of Luke Kornet was more obvious than ever. But perhaps even more obvious was the fact that something is clearly wrong with this team.

There was the blown lead in Maui against Kansas. Then the same scenario happened at Baylor. Then it happened again at home against Dayton. And here we are yet again discussing a poor second half output in the loss to Purdue.

How does Stallings fix this? It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer.

There is a tendency to always blame the coach when a team underachieves. It’s the coach’s job to have his team ready to play, so the criticism makes sense in certain cases.

However, this isn’t one of those cases. At least not when it comes to blaming Stallings for all of these disappointing second half performances.

The biggest issue for Vandy right now is toughness down the stretch. It takes a certain degree of mental and physical toughness to be able to put good teams away in the second half. The Commodores weren’t able to do that against good teams like Kansas, Baylor, Dayton, and Purdue in the second half.

The result? An underwhelming 7-4 record entering the Christmas break.

Stallings stated a few weeks ago that Kornet is the toughest player on the team. That’s proving to be the case given Vandy’s struggles without him against Dayton and Purdue.

From top to bottom, Vandy simply has to get tougher when things start going against them. It may come in the form of the opposing team making a big run, or it may come in the form of bad officiating.

Either way, how you respond is all that matters. Vandy’s response in those situations has not been ideal.

The Commodores have all the talent in the world. But it doesn’t matter how many future NBA draft picks you have if you can’t find the toughness needed to win games against high-level teams.

The bad news is that Vandy hasn’t found it yet. The good news is that we’re still a long way from March.

MTSU coach Kermit Davis has his Blue Raider team off to a hot start this season. PHOTO COURTESY MTSU ATHLETICS

MTSU coach Kermit Davis has his Blue Raider team off to a hot start this season. PHOTO COURTESY MTSU ATHLETICS

2. MTSU in good shape entering Christmas

Last Thursday’s game against Belmont was a chance for MTSU to prove that it belonged among the top mid-major teams in college basketball.

The Blue Raiders certainly proved that in a 83-62 shellacking of the Bruins.

MTSU forced 17 Belmont turnovers and never looked back after getting off to a hot start. It was the second statement win in a row for Kermit Davis’ team after they had knocked off Auburn in the prior game.

But despite riding a wave of momentum after those two wins, MTSU would give a bit of that back in their final game before the Christmas break.

A tough road game at Georgia State presented the Blue Raiders with some obvious challenges, and Jacob Ivory’s potential game-tying buzzer-beater came up just short to hand MTSU its first loss in three weeks.

Still, 7-3 is nothing to scoff at considering the level of competition. MTSU’s three losses have come to Murray State, VCU, and Georgia State, which are all teams that will have a good chance at an NCAA tournament berth this season.

The Blue Raiders face another interesting challenge on December 27 when they travel to Sioux Falls to take on South Dakota State.

Rick Byrd scheduled some very tough non-conference games for his Belmont team this season. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Rick Byrd scheduled some very tough non-conference games for his Belmont team this season. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

3. Belmont’s grueling non-conference road slate comes to a close

Don’t say that Rick Byrd and Belmont didn’t want to play anybody.

The Bruins started off the season with a huge road win at Marquette, but since then, have been unable to find that same type of success away from home.

Luckily, Belmont’s challenging non-conference road schedule is finally over.

Although the Bruins enter the Christmas break at 7-6 overall, it shouldn’t be considered a bad record given the road trips.

Belmont’s latest road loss came at the hands of Cleveland State (who is only 4-7 on the season), but it was really the only questionable away from home loss that the Bruins have had all season.

The other losses came courtesy of Arizona State, Evansville, BYU, Valparaiso, and MTSU. Not exactly bad competition there.

So while Belmont fans may be concerned at the six non-conference losses, there’s no reason to be all that worried.

The OVC slate won’t bring nearly as much tough tests on the road.

This week’s mid-state schedule:

December 27

MTSU at South Dakota State – 4:30 PM CT

December 28

Valparaiso at Belmont – 7 PM CT

December 29

TSU at Tennessee – 12 PM CT

Chattanooga at Lipscomb – 6:30 PM CT

December 30

Trevecca at MTSU – 6 PM CT

Western Michigan at Vanderbilt – 8 PM CT

December 31

Belmont at SEMO – 12 PM CT

And-1:

Austin Peay’s Chris Horton put on an absolute show in his team’s 92-84 win at Lipscomb.

Horton scored a career-high 37 points and also recorded his ninth straight double-double this season, giving him an NCAA-best 10 double-doubles on the year.

Anything else I need to know about in mid-state hoops this week? Let me know on Twitter.